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Farmers markets offer a chance to make a connection

Do you visit farmers markets? It hasn't been a regular routine of mine but through the years I like to visit different farmers markets when I travel. It's interesting to see the variety offered at farmers markets throughout the country, from rural, small-town markets to large city markets.

My biggest takeaway as an agriculturist is I always hope to see more actual farmers at a farmers market. There are often artists, bakers and usually fresh produce farmers. But there is an opportunity I think for farmers who raise other products to market directly to the consumer and bridge a gap of misconception around modern agriculture.

Farmers and ranchers sell their products they've raised and grown and answer questions of purchasers at a farmers market. Never before are everyday people desiring a greater connection to know farmers, where food comes from and how it is raised.

Earlier this year, in social media, I saw Amy Hoffman of Vergas, Minn. share that she would be selling Hoffman Family Farm beef every Saturday at the farmers market in Fergus Falls, Minn. I had never met Amy or her husband, Nate. I sent her a direct message on Instagram and as we chatted, I learned she is originally from a farm and beef cattle operation less than 30 miles of where I live in North Dakota.

In June, my mother-in-law, son and I ventured to the Fergus Falls Farmers Market to buy Hoffman's beef and to meet Amy in person. We bought several cuts of steaks, pre-made hamburger patties and she was out of brisket but we purchased it from her. She later in the day delivered beef brisket with her daughter to our lake home.

I returned in early August in celebration of National Farmers Market Week with an AgweekTV colleague to capture the story of Nate and Amy Hoffman's desire to build connections and business between their farm's beef and market it direct to consumers.

The Hoffmans are examples of the farmers I often feel are missing from farmers markets I've visited. Nate shared they're "cutting out the middle man" and encouraged other farmers to think about how they can possibly market their product direct to the consumer or simply engage in conversations about their farming and ranching practices.

"The biggest thing is just letting other people know how the product is raised and how we do it in an efficient, economic way," said Nate.

Amy has a background in hospitality and restaurant management before going to school to be an accountant. Today she's a full-time corporate accountant, wife, and mom. I know she could have numerous reasons why she didn't have time to take on attending a farmers market every Saturday in the summer and fall. I respect her passion and desire to grow their farm but also educate about beef and how its raised. Amy shared she ran the numbers, analyzed and felt they would make a little more money by the direct-to-consumers option. For those with freezer space, they also sell quarters, halves and whole cuts of beef.

In the tough ag economy, making a little more money matters for farmers and extra effort is needed.

As Amy shared, "We were looking for a local place to sell our meat do more to get our product direct to consumers...You have to be here for consistency. People want to see you every Saturday. That consistency will build our customer base."

I always thought of farmers markets wrapping up as the summer ends in our part of the Upper Midwest but the Fergus Falls Market runs into October every Wednesday and Saturday. I am returning this weekend for another visit to the farmers and vendors, who all make or grow the products their selling. It's now a favorite way I like to spend a weekend morning, especially when I get a chance to visit with farmers like Nate and Amy Hoffman.